SYSTEMATIC – REAPING THE REWARDS OF BOLDNESS
By Julian Nettlefold
BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold meets BATTLESPACE BUSINESSMAN of The Year 2008 Michael Holm, President & CEO OF SYSTEMATIC A/S at the Company’s Danish Headquarters in Aarhus
Julian Nettlefold travelled to Aarhus in Denmark to visit Michael Holm, President & CEO of Systematic our 2008 Businessman of the Year to find out the secret of his success in the challenging world of defence software.
“Was it always your boyhood dream to become a software mogul?” the Editor asked.
“No, funnily enough, my boyhood dream was to become a vet. I had no knowledge of electronics and computers until a career counsellor stated that a computing course I had been considering was nothing for me. To prove him wrong, I applied and the rest, as they say, is history.
I went from High School to a Danish Computer School. I then applied for, and won, a job with the Danish Government Data central organisation, now run by CSC in Copenhagen. From 1981-1985, I worked for Thomson-CSF (now Thales) in France on mini-computers which brought me into working on a contract to supply a Naval Command and Control systems to the Danish Navy. I then moved back to Copenhagen and on to Aarhus which is the Headquarters of the Danish Navy and set up Systematic twenty three years ago (August 19th 1985).”
“Were you the sole incumbent when you started the business?”
“No, I was introduced to a guy in Copenhagen with similar ideas and, after a provisional meeting in Copenhagen, we agreed to set up the business in Aarhus. There was no business plan, just a chat over a couple of beers and an agreement to work together for ten years! By that time we employed forty people and Thomson-CSF was one of our main customers.”
“Do you own all the equity in Systematic?”
“No, I own 60% and I have two co-owners, our Chairman Alex Holm Jensen with 15% and a silent partner, Erik Bank Lauritsen with 25%. Crucially we have no borrowings which enable us to adopt a long-term approach to the Company’s strategic direction. We can develop and invest in the software products that we believe the markets will look for in the future. Last year, our turnover was 380 million DKr (£40 million) with an EBIT of around 10%.
“Do you have a staff recruitment policy to ensure you have the right calibre of people?”
“Absolutely, we only employ those with the best degrees and competence in their field. Out of a staff of approx five hundred we have 70% with Masters of PhDs in Computer Studies and 21% have BSc degrees. We also employ domain specialists, who have many years of experience within their chosen domain in order to help develop our key products and keep our development relevant to the market’s needs.
“What sets you out as different from the heard?”
“Systematic set out to be a software house from day one. We are not a hardware company with software experience, which is the crucial point of difference to most of the so-called software vendors in the defence space. We also felt that we needed a clear identity, something that would set us apart from other companies. We needed a product that would make a difference and believed that there was a shortage of products in relation to military messaging, interoperability and command and control (C2).
Therefore, using our domain knowledge from our work with the Danish Navy, who was very supportive in our formative years, we decided to dedicate our efforts to creating the best possible products in the aforementioned areas.
To that end we developed the IRIS Message Formatting tool set, which was specifically designed to improve the interoperability of military systems. For the first time military organizations could purchase a commercial product that allowed them to manage interoperability standards in a smooth and efficient manner. In 2004, we initiated the development of our SitaWare product suite, which is now our key solution within the Command a